Editor’s note: This story was originally published in Sports Spectrum’s 25-year anniversary issue. To order a copy, please go to www.sportsspectrum.com/sstore/.
Reggie White is best remembered as the “Minister of Defense,” a nickname given to him because he was an ordained minister (at age 17) and a great defensive player.
White, who died Dec. 26, 2004, in Huntersville, N.C., from cardiac arrhythmia at the age of 43, was named to the Pro Bowl and All-Pro teams 13 times during his 15-year career and was voted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2006, 13 months after his death.
In 2005, his jersey number (92) was retired by theUniversityofTennessee, the Green Bay Packers and the Philadelphia Eagles. It was the first time a person had his number retired by two NFL teams.
The accolades seem endless (two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year; second all-time in sacks; NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team, 1990’s All-Decade Team and 1980’s All-Decade Team), but his faith was why we, at Sports Spectrum, wrote about him numerous times during his professional career, which began with the USFL’s Memphis Showboats in 1984 and ended with the NFL’s Carolina Panthers in 2000.
Passionate is the best word to describe White’s faith, which was more than evident in his life in and outside of football. He married his wife Sara, who was just as passionate about her faith, when they were 21. They had a son, Jeremy, and a daughter, Jecolia.
Below are excerpts from four interviews done for Sports Spectrum by Tom Felton, Roman GabrielIII, Kyle Rote Jr. and Jim Gibbs. In these excerpts, we hope you are encouraged in your faith to live a life more in love with Christ. – Brett Honeycutt
Reggie White on family and helping others through Urban Hope
Sports Spectrum: You and your wife Sara seem to be true partners in life.
Reggie: We do a lot together. God has made me realize that Sara is just as much a part of the ministry as I am. There was a time we went to a prison. I got up and shared, and I gave an invitation for Christ. About seven prisoners came down to give their life to the Lord. Sara felt the Lord put something on her heart to say, and when she did, 10 other prisoners came down!
Sports Spectrum: One of your exciting strategies involves Urban Hope (a ministry started when Reggie and his wife, Sara, were inGreen Bay). Tell us about this venture.
Reggie: Urban Hope is being run inGreen Bay. We train entrepreneurs. They go through a 12-week course and learn how to put together a strong business plan. We give each of the two students with the best business plans a $2,500 grant. They can put that into their business. Because of the relationship we have with the business people, the bankers, and the government, we can be confident they can take their business plan to the bank. Over the past two years, we’ve had a part in helping start over 55 businesses in the area. It’s going real well, and it’s having a spiritual effect on the students. We share Christ with them and try to live out Christ before them.
Reggie White helped the Green Bay Packers to back-to-back Super Bowls in 1997 and 1998. The Packers beat the New England Patriots 35-21 in 1997.
Sports Spectrum: Looking back, what are your most vivid Super Bowl memories?
Reggie: Well, of course breaking the record (three sacks in one Super Bowl). That was a big accomplishment, and winning the game was a big accomplishment. But I remember waking up the next morning – I was worn out, and we went back toGreen Bay for the parade. The next day was the parade – it was a long day. The next day Sara and I flew toHawaii for the Pro Bowl. A month later, we had a mini-camp, followed by another two weeks later, and again a month after that. Four weeks later – training camp. I really wasn’t able to enjoy the year.
I think God showed me that there is more to life – to let the whole world know about Jesus. I think that was even bigger than winning the game.
Sports Spectrum: Two years ago, the Super Bowl win was an apex for you. Last year you went to the Super Bowl, and the Packers ended up losing the big game. You also had all of the physical problems to get there and then other problems later. How was your faith tested in the past year?
Reggie: It was a difficult year. With the Broncos, I think we underestimated them. But they did a good job. They did an excellent job of running the ball. That’s why they beat us. They didn’t beat us in the air, they beat us on the ground. We didn’t play well enough for us to win. The Broncos were an excellent team.
There was a lot going on in my life last year. There was losing that game and then going to speak to theWisconsinstate assembly and the problems with my back.
But I’ll tell you what, this was probably the best year of my life spiritually. God showed me that a lot of times when you go through hardships, that draws you closer to Him. In the midst of the difficulty, it turned into excitement because I saw God move like I’ve never seen Him move before.
Reggie White came out of a one-year retirement to play for the Carolina Panthers in 2000. He played one season and retired for good after that season.
Sports Spectrum: Reggie, let’s talk about your year. What was that like?
Reggie: It was a lot of fun. What’s exciting about it is that my wife, my friends, and I really saw God in my coming back. We really saw the Lord giving me strength to endure with my back and take the pain so I could perform at a high level. It’s been exciting. It’s great to see how God works, because everybody was saying I can’t do it. Some people were ridiculing me for saying that God spoke to me, but the way the Lord has allowed me to come out has been tremendous. Some people say, “Hey, maybe we shouldn’t underestimate what He said.”
Sports Spectrum: You went through a lot for pain with your back a year ago. With that physical pain, how difficult was it to make the decision to play again?
Reggie: That was extremely difficult. Nobody knew what I was going through. Nobody saw me on Mondays when I was walking like I was 80 years old. I had to battle with it all week – go out and practice and try to keep my level of play up. I not only dealt with a bad back, I caught pneumonia in the middle of the season and my blood count was low. Also, I had a rare lung disease, which caused lumps to grow on my lungs. It was affecting my wind. So I was struggling with all of that. I lost my strength and lost some weight, but I was still able to come out with good numbers. I didn’t want to come off the field. I tried to help the team as much as possible.
Only Jesus could give me the strength to be able to endure that.
In the process of struggling with my back during the offseason, I thought I would retire. And the Lord pretty much told me, no I want you to play one more year. I went from a sense of disappointment to excitement when He spoke to me.
On what some considered a controversial speech to the Wisconsin legislature and his comments on homosexuality, which was highlighted in his speech:
Sports Spectrum: A lot of people have heard about the speech you gave to theWisconsin legislature and then the commercial you did against same-sex marriages. What has been the reaction of people around the league to the stand you took?
Reggie: “Well, there hasn’t been one single person I’ve played against or with who has come up to me and said, ‘You’re crazy.’ There has not been a single person who talked to me and said, ‘I disagree with you.’ I can handle disagreements. Most people who disagree with me have disagreed with me behind either a radio microphone or TV camera. Some of those guys come in our locker room every day, yet they haven’t been man enough to come to me and say, ‘I disagree with you.’ I can’t respect that type of person. I look at that kind of person as a coward. If he comes to me and says, ‘I disagree with you, tell me if you disagree with me,’ I can handle that. But to say you disagree with me and not be man enough to say it to my face, I don’t have too much respect for that person.”
Sports Spectrum: The homosexual groups were obviously upset with what you said. What do you say to someone who says, referring to the newspaper ads. “He should have been wearing a minister’s grab, not his Packers uniform.”
Reggie: “Even if I didn’t wear a Packers uniform, they would be offended. These people have no problem with me, they have a problem with God Himself.
I hear so many of them saying that God is love, and yes, God is a God of love. But the Bible says He’s also a God of vengeance (Psalm 34:1). God wants us to give him the same type of love He’s shown us. God is a holy God. And the Bible says we should be holy, even as He is holy (I Peter1:16).
So many people say, ‘That’s your interpretation of the Scripture.’ Well, if the Bible says, ‘Unless a man is born again he cannot see the kingdom of heaven’ (John 3:3), that’s not my interpretation, that’s what the Bible says. If the Bible says a man can’t sleep with a man as he sleeps with a woman (Leviticus18:22, Romans1:26-27), that’s not an interpretation, that’s what the Scripture says. If the Bible says a man should not commit adultery (Exodus20:14), or that the wicked man who is into fornication will not enter the kingdom of heaven (I Corinthians 6:9-10) – that’s not an interpretation, that’s what the Bible says. It’s plain and simple.”
Sports Spectrum: What would you tell the homosexual community or people searching and confused?
Reggie: It took somebody to tell me I was wrong. That I was in sin. For me to turn my life around, it took somebody to challenge me and let me know where I was. In the process, it took them to show me in the Word. The only thing I would say to those who would disagree with me is this: Go and read the Scriptures for yourself.
There are many people, not only homosexuals, living in sin. I mean, inAmerica, adultery is all right because people say everybody is doing it. Fornication is all right because people say well, everybody’s doing it. Lying is all right because everybody else is doing it. The Bible says it’s not all right.
Go and read the Scriptures for yourself, and stay in it, because sooner or later, God is going to change you. You’re going to experience His love like you’ve never experienced it before. People may have a disapproval of what I said, but I would challenge everybody to read the Scriptures for yourself and let the Scriptures speak to you. I’ll promise you that sooner or later, it’s going to hit you hard and deliverance will come to your life.
Sports Spectrum: After 14 years in the NFL, what’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned from the game?
Reggie: Teamwork. When we won the Super Bowl, the players weren’t the only ones who got rings. The coaches got rings, our wives got rings, the ticket guys got rings, the equipment guys, the trainers. The publicity guys. Everybody got a ring. The secretaries. And everybody understood where they stood. And I think when the body of Christ learns what teamwork is all about, then we’ll really see revival.
On how he wanted people to remember him, not only on the field but outside of football.
Sports Spectrum: How would you like people to remember you in terms of a football player and a person?
Reggie: For people to remember my life, Sarah, and me, as people who loved God. I want people to be able to say to my children, “You know that your mom and dad were a woman and a man after God’s heart.” I want my grandchildren to be able to say that to their children. That’s the legacy I want to leave. I want people to say that Reggie and Sarah were a man and woman of God. That would mean more to me than anything.
On the prayer circle, which players from each team form after games so they can pray together. White was one of the first to utilize this and continued it even after the NFL threatened to fine players.
Sports Spectrum: Tell us how the post-game prayer circles came about:
Reggie: That came about, I think, the year the Giants and the Bills played in the Super Bowl. Some of the guys started praying after the games together. The next year the NFL had made up a rule where they were going to stop players from fraternizing and talking after the game, which would eliminate the prayers. Now, I don’t know if the NFL was really going tout to stop guys from praying, but it was discussed that they were. But when we went toLondon to play the Buffalo Bills, some of the Bills players and I were determined to pray. Many people said, “Well, the NFL will fine you.” But we weren’t going to be intimidated to stop praying and talking to God.”
That’s something that’s continued, and a lot of brothers around the league want to do it. It’s just giving God credit for giving us the opportunity to be on the field. I believe we’re blessed to be able to be in the game.
On leaving Philadelphia to go play for Green Bay:
Sports Spectrum: You’ve always been very clear that one of the reasons you went to Green Bay was that you felt that it gave you a good chance to get to the Super Bowl. Tell us about your goals in sports, and how they match up with your goals for the other things in your life.
Reggie: Playing football is helping me in my spiritual life because it’s helping to build my character, and it has allowed me to see a lot of things that a lot of other people won’t be able to see – to experience some things that people are experiencing, but not on the level that we’re experiencing it. It’s also teaching me what the more important things are, like my family and, of course, God himself. If I leave this game without a championship (which he didn’t), I know that I will leave this game prepared for whatever God is going to do with me after I’ve finished playing.
On knowing God
How do we know that God is real or that Christ is who He said he is?
Reggie: The thing is that I know. Some people just don’t want to know. You look at atheists. They know there’s a God. They know if there wasn’t, they wouldn’t be fighting so hard to disprove that there is no God. You look at Madalyn Murray O’Hare, a woman who says she doesn’t believe in God and yet she is a woman who has spent her whole life trying to get God out of the schools. I know God is real. I know personally He’s real and a lot of other people know God is real and, as I say, people either don’t know or they don’t want to believe. The Bible says that a natural man does not understand the things of the Spirit. That’s the only way you can really explain it.
White says that it is also difficult to explain to some people why just being a good person and believing in God is not good enough.
Reggie: A lot of people just can’t understand why they need a relationship with Christ. I’ll try to tell them about Jesus and they’ll say, “Well, I believe in God.’ But I tell people that there’s a difference between ‘belief’ and having faith in God. There are a lot of people who believe in God but are going to hell. And the Bible says that even the demons believe in the truth. They believe in God and yet they don’t have a personal relationship with Jesus. What it boils down to is having a personal relationship with Christ.”
That relationship with God? It’s what White spent his life telling others. He didn’t just play football or see football as a means in and of itself. He saw it as a vehicle to help him share Christ with others, and he was good at both – playing football and living a life so in love with Christ that others couldn’t help but want what he had.